Netflix UK film review: The Holiday Calendar
James R | On 14, Nov 2018
Director: Bradley Walsh
Cast: Kat Graham, Quincy Brown, Ethan Peck, Ron Cephas Jones
Watch A Christmas Prince online in the UK: Netflix UK
A royal wedding. Archery lessons. A wolf attack. Never let it be said that Netflix isn’t willing to embrace the silliness of the festive season when it comes to Christmas movies – all of the above happened in just one of them, A Christmas Prince. The Holiday Calendar, by comparison, is a much more grounded affair, and that makes it arguably better – and yet disappointingly worse.
Netflix’s decision to invest heavily in Christmas films is one that was inevitable: after years of subscribers streaming their way through Hallmark cliches, it’s no surprise that the online giant’s algorithms calculated the need for some homegrown holiday entertainment to fill the niche. And so we get a sleigh-full of Christmas Netflix treats this year, with The Holiday Calendar leading a string of originals: family-friendly adventure The Santa Chronicles, identity-swap comedy The Princess Switch and regal sequel A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding. With all of those tropes taken care of elsewhere, The Holiday Calendar is left to its own devices to come up with a hook – and that hook is, as the title would suggest, a magical advent calendar.
The film follows Abby (Kat Graham), a photographer who is given the calendar by her grandfather (Ron Cephas Jones), as the clan begin to gather back home for Christmas preparations – including the arrival of her childhood best friend, Josh (Quincy Brown), who’s been off travelling on his own camera-fuelled exploits. Before you can say “Christmas is all around”, Abby crosses paths with local doctor Ty (Ethan Peck), and sparks start to fly – sparks that are fanned by the calendar, which seems to be predicting what’s going to happen to her each day, as their candy-coated dates sack up.
There’s nothing wrong with a bit of supernatural hokum in a festive flick – Christmas, after all, is a time for miracles, whether it’s Tim Allen’s beard or Die Hard’s FBI – but The Holiday Calendar’s problem is that it never really doubles down on its central idea. The objects Abby discovers behind each door are as generic as they come (a tree, some boots, a nutcracker), and could really refer to anything she encounters during the winter months. That leaves the whole plot feeling thinly contrived (as opposed to amiably formulaic), only drawing out the predictable trudge through the flurry of small-stakes story twists, from meet-cutes to fall-outs to romantic realisations just in time for the final act.
That’s all the more frustrating because of how good the cast is. Graham, of The Vampire Diaries, is endearingly sincere, as she charts the all-too-recognisable struggle of balancing one’s dream career with a day job, while Quincy Brown’s Josh is the embodiment of twinkling charm that you want in a will-they-won’t-they romantic interest. Ron Cephas Jones, meanwhile, is as excellent as ever, bringing surprising gravitas to the part of long-toothed family man. The result is a well-acted, but underwhelming early Christmas gift from Netflix, one that isn’t bad enough to be a classic, but isn’t good enough either. It’s a likeable piece of festive fluff to stick on while wrapping presents, what with its cheesy soundtrack, refreshingly diverse ensemble, and cute message about knowing the person you love, but you’re unlikely to binge it year after year, along with the season’s best worst holiday movies. There’s magic in that there calendar; it just never opens the door wide enough to let it show.
The Holiday Calendar is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.